Intellectual Property

A couple of articles I read recently made me start thinking about “Rights grabs” as they are now being called. I like to call them stealing from the photographer. I still find it hard to believe that anyone would sign one of these contracts, much the less actually send a  disc of photos to a manager or artist.

This week I read an article in the new Downbeat Magazine about companies that are bootlegging music publications, stealing annotated songs from established companies and republishing them under their own cover. It went on to say that some companies are now actually naming their publications “The Real Songbook.”

Recently somebody sent me an article from the New York Times dated August 6th, 2010. It was called The Music Copyright Enforcers

The article follows a woman named Devon Baker, an executive with Broadcast Music Incorporated, otherwise known as BMI. They are a P.R.O., or performing rights organization; P.R.O.’s license the music of the songwriters and music publishers they represent, collecting royalties whenever that music is played in a public setting.

Her job is to go to bars and restaurants and collect a licensing fee the venues right to play copyrighted music in their establishment. They deal with radio stations, TV and cable networks, film studios andstreaming Internet music sites. But they also deal with bars and restaurants, along with funeral parlors, grocery stores, sports arenas, fitness centers, retirement homes — tens of thousands of businesses, playing a collective many billions of songs per year. The situation is very similar to a manager asking for copyright to a photographer’s work- we are not using it for anything really important, so why should we have to pay for it? The photographer should just be happy that he or she was allowed some measly access to the band!

From the article:

Once, a venue owner exploded, kicked her off his property and told her, as she recalled, “to get the bleep outta here.” Another hissed at her that she was “nothing more than a vulture that flew over and came down and ate up all of the little people.” It wasn’t fun. It was just the sort of thing, in fact, that could bring Devon Baker to tears.

Further along:

As Richard Conlon, a vice president at BMI in charge of new media, put it: “A few years back, we had Penn, Schoen and Berland, Hillary’s pollster guys, do a study. The idea was, go and find out what Americans really think about copyright. Do songwriters deserve to be paid? Absolutely! The numbers were enormously favorable — like, 85 percent. The poll asked, ‘If there was a party that wasn’t compensating songwriters, do you think that would be wrong?’ And the answer was, ‘Yes!’ So then, everything’s fine, right? Wrong. Because when it came time to ask people to part with their shekels, it was like: ‘Eww. You want me to pay?’

So, what does all of this mean? It seems that intellectual property is worth nothing in the 21st century! Whenever I go to a show, after negotiating to not sign the ridiculous contract that is offered, I am amazed to see many photographers who have signed away all of the rights to their work, just for the ability to shoot 3 boring songs (or less) usually from a vantage point that makes it impossible for them to get anything useful from the experience. Why do they do it? I have no idea. Some say that they use fake names and signatures. But that doesn’t make the issue any more palatable. Many times I am told this:

“Everyone else is OK with this, why not you?” I usually just hang up and stay home and watch television. I earn most of my living licensing photos I took 20 or so years ago, not taking new photos. Most of the new photos taken these days are of the boring first three songs variety. What will happen in 20 years when bands of today are looking for photos from 2010? What will they come up with?

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